Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard.
But I think .
Oh Bondage Up Yours! One, Two, Three, FOUR!
And with those words Poly Styrene smashed her way into my world. The
year was 1977 and music, particularly rock music, was a very different
place from today. Largely a male dominated genre to that point, women
were starting to emerge, and punk rock in particular was allowing them
to vent their anger in public. Ladies such as Patti Smith and Debby
Harry were leading the charge stateside, whilst The Slits, Siouxie Sioux
and Poly Styrene were empowering women in a way not seen in British
Polys band X Ray Spex had a relatively short career from 1976-79,
although they left behind the legacy of one of punks finest, and
unheralded, moments in their debut album Germ Free Adolescents.
Polys further foray into music remained sporadic thereafter and
although there were solo albums Translucence in 1980 and
Flower Aeroplane in 2004, little was heard from her as she
concentrated on her devotions to Hari Krishna.
But more or less out of the blue, at the end of 2010 she announced
her return to the music scene with the alternative festive anthem Black
Christmas, closely followed by an album Generation Indigo
to be released at the end of March. Produced by Youth (The Verve, Killing
Joke, The Fireman, Edwyn Collins), I was unsure what to expect. Many
punk bands, mainly through fan/peer pressure, stick to regurgitating
the same album ad infinitum. Theres nothing really wrong with
that, and I must say I still take pleasure in hearing the UK Subs latest
offering as much as I did their previous 21 (yes really) albums, even
though they are intrinsically the same record.
But Poly has gone way out on a limb here. There are just so many different
musical styles, it a veritable smorgasbord of pop, rock, hip-hop, trance,
dubstep, reggae, ragga etc. I suppose if youre going to be away
for such a long time you may as well come back with a bang, and my God
does she deliver.
Opening track I Luv UR Sneakers is in the same ball park
as the Ting Tings. Polys voice seems distinctly warmer and mellower
than I remember, as back in the day she could cut steel when hitting
the high notes. This song appears to be a praise of trainers, especially
vegetarian/vegan ones produced so no animal died or lost its soul
in the production of. The chorus confirms her love of casual sporting
footwear, although if she was ever downwind of my 4 year old Pumas
she might change her mind.
The single Virtual Boyfriend is next up and for a moment
the synth intro transports me back to the early 80s, and
Mute Record bands like Depeche Mode, Fad Gadget and the Silicon Teens.
This is catchy as hell and satires the relationships that begin and
end on social networking sites, without the necessity of ever having
to meet in person. As she says Youre like a MySpace friend
thats all, just a text or a missed
call, I never knew but I lost control, that you loved your Blackberry
phone. And its got a great video to accompany it as well.
And so just when you think you can see where the sound of the album
is going, she throws in the first of several curveballs with title track
Generation Indigo. Having a laid back reggae, dub inspired
sound it was inspired by Indigo Children. As Poly explains, this is
the name of the "the generation my daughter was born into, a generation
that can change things". Incidentally her daughter Celeste, and
sister, contributed backing vocals throughout the album, so the record
was truly a family affair.
Next track Kitsch revolves around all the negative things
that are sometimes said about women, but turning them around and throwing
them back in the accusers face, all set to a disco beat. Pollys
green credentials come to the fore on White Gold. Bemoaning
the necessity for wars to be fought over the black gold of oil, and
consequential ecological disasters such as the recent Gulf of Mexico
spill, she muses on the possibility that if global warming continues
unchecked then future conflicts could be over water reserves and in
particular the White Gold of the arctic ice caps.
After a semi return to her roots on rocker L.U.V., there
is the rather eerily chilling Ghoulish. A song partly inspired
by Michael Jackson, Polly explains that "It was written around
the time he was dying and there were all these pictures of his nose,
and his white face, and the make-up. It did look ghoulish, but you could
also see that maybe underneath the mask there was quite a nice person."
She was aided and abetted on the track by another of punks high priestesses,
as The Slits Viv Albertine laid down the guitar parts. Over all
the song had a trance like feel, with Pollys vocals seeming to
be floating in the distance.
Back to politics for Code Pink Dub a reggae inspired number
that includes a refrain highlighting something we have all being saying
for a while now, Weve got to get the hell out of Iraq.
Similarly, Colour Blind sets to a Trojan ska backbeat her
horrified feelings over the BNPs success in gaining seats on local
Poly no longer resides in London and so Trash City, is her
take on the Capital nowadays. More punk that the preceding few tracks,
it reflects her view that the City retains the pulse and energy of her
youth. Back to reggae for penultimate track No Rockefeller
with her voice bearing more than passing remembrance to Debby Harry
on Blondies The Tide is High. And finally, Electric Blue
Monsoon, which is mostly sung acappella. It has a rather ethereal
quality, which befits the subject matter as Poly said that it was written
when she was thinking of Krishna. Apparently if you see an image of
him it is the colour of an electric blue monsoon.
So there we have it, a delightful and eclectic mix of songs and styles,
and a great comeback from a lady whose formative years were spent at
the forefront of a music revolution that changed this country forever.
However, most people are aware that unfortunately Poly has not been
too well of late. So whichever omnipresent deity you believe in (or
not) I think you could do worse that offer up a silent prayer for the
speedy recovery of this beautiful lady.